What a beautiful family to belong to and I just love teaching here, watching your response and again taking the word of God and applying it to your life.
And I want to talk to you again on the subject of failure, famous failures. Men and women who we look at as highly successful, not only in biblical times, but in our day, and yet they went through failure. And haven’t you ever asked yourself this question? Why is it that one person that fails, seems to kind of get back up and respond in a positive way and build their life off of that failure, where another person, when they fail, it almost is final in their life. Keeps them down and keeps them discouraged and somehow they don’t seem to be able to get back up on top of their failures. I think the difference is this: perspective. I think perspective either allows us in a positive way to overcome our difficulties, or in a negative way, allows our difficulties to overcome us.
The major difference between average people and achieving people is their perspective of and their response to failure. In other words, how I see failure going in, how I respond to failure coming out. You see, if I do not have a healthy perspective of failure going in, I won’t risk. I won’t take the necessary steps. I won’t put my name on the line. I’ll just back up and I’ll withdraw, and if my response to failure after I have failed is negative, I’ll basically say something like I’ll never do that again. Let me ask you a question. Let’s just take a Crystal Cathedral poll today. How many of you would raise your hand and say John, I have at least one time in my life, had a bad experience and I have said I will never do that again. Could I see? Lady back there on the left has both hands up, okay?
Well why is that? It’s because the perspective and the response to failure was not correct. You see, many famous people have been written off as failure. Albert Einstein’s parents thought he was mentally handicapped. And his teacher became so frustrated with him, she asked him to leave school and she wrote “Einstein will never amount to anything.” Fred Astaire literally kept a memo over his fireplace from an MGM testing director, and the memo had these words: can’t act, slightly bald, can dance a little. Abraham Lincoln’s fiancé died, he failed in business twice, and literally he was defeated in eight elections before he became president. Richard Bach, who wrote Jonathon Livingston Seagull, was turned down by 18 publishers before finally one took a chance on him and the next ten years, it sold seven million books. Wayne Gretsky, the greatest perhaps national hockey league player ever, when he entered into the hockey league, the report on him was he’s too small, too slow and probably won’t make it in the NHL. Henry Ford went broke five times and when he finally put together his first car, did you know he forgot to put a reverse gear in it? Now there was a person who thought there would never be a mistake.
You see the perspective is everything and you can see biblical examples of how perspective, literally influence the failures of men and women. For example, Job, in his major, major down time, difficult time, loss of family, loss of fortune, and yet Job held steady. His perspective of problems and failure were entirely different than his friends, who said Job, curse God and die. It’s a terrible thing what’s happened to you. David and Saul, the first two kings of Israel. David, in fact, if you look biblically, failed more than Saul but Saul’s life ended tragically and David’s did not and the difference was, not their failures, it was their response, their perspective concerning failure.
I love the story, talking about perspective, I love the story of John, who was in the 3rd grade, and he had just started bowling, hadn’t been bowling very long, and he had this eight pound ball, as you can see a little 3rd grader with an eight pound ball and he was with his mother and he would, you know, kind of roll the ball down there, and he was throwing mostly gutters. And when the game was over, he looked at mom and said “what was my score?” His mother, you know, she was kind of feeling bad cause it wasn’t a good score and I guess she wants to kind of give him a little bit of encouragement, she said “well sweetheart, she said, your score was.. sweetheart you’re score was 28.” And little Johnnie looked and said, “can you believe that?” He said “I used to stink at bowling.” It’s all perspective.
And I have discovered also about failure and problems that our perspective changes tremendously if it is Sheila’s problem with failure, versus my problem for failure. It’s the old joke major surgery, minor surgery. You know minor surgery is when it’s on you and major surgery is when it’s on me. My dad loves to tell this joke of two men who were talking and one of the guys says “I lost my job.” The other guy said “well it could be worse.” The guy said “well my house burned down,” and the guy said “well it could be worse.” Well he said “my wife just left me” and the guy said “well it could be worse.” He said “what do you mean it could be worse? You just keep saying it could be worse, it could be worse;” he said “well it could have been my job, my house and my wife.”
Isn’t it amazing how we can encourage people during their difficulties and failures and problems and kind of tell them its going to be okay, but then when its us, when we’re right in the middle of it, all of a sudden we’re saying wow, this is tough, this isn’t easy. They’re not answers. Man, where did all those easy answers go?
Well the apostle Paul, he’s our famous failure biblically. The apostle Paul would tell you that perspective changes everything. And the apostle Paul would say to you and to me today, that God will give you a good perspective about problems and difficulties. Now, let’s just do a quick biblical review. I’m going to go fast here. There are several reasons why Paul could have seen himself as a failure. Number one, he admitted that he was the chief of sinners. I mean that’s okay. That’s not a good start when you look around and say I’m looking at everybody in the Crystal Cathedral today and I just want to raise my hand and say I’m the chief of all sinners.
And secondly, he had his priorities in the past wrong. They were turned out wrong. He said all the things I used to think were trophies I discovered that they were rubbish. In other words, he said I look at my life and the things I thought were important, I see now they weren’t important at all. He could have felt that he was a failure because his life was filled with difficulties. I mean when you read the bible with Paul’s life, the guy had problems all the time, everywhere.
Listen to what he said one time. He was writing to the church of Corinth, he said “five times I received from the Jews 39 lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and day I spent in the deep, I’ve been on frequent journeys and dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from countrymen, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers in the sea, dangers from false brethren, I’ve been in labor and hardship, through many sleep ness nights, I’ve been in hunger and I’ve been in thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” I mean this is just one testimonial. I don’t know what that does to you, but I want to go over and I want to knock on Paul’s door and say Paul, my name’s John, I’m your friend. Don’t go out today. Just stay home, stay oh please, just stay where it’s safe and comfortable. Don’t go. When you go out, it’s just not a good thing. I mean the apostle Paul is living proof of Murphy’s law.
Another reason the apostle Paul could have seen himself as a failure is he wasn’t even the favorite preacher among the people. There was a man named Apolis that the people really liked better than Paul and then Paul could have seen himself as a failure because he had prayers that were not answered. Now here is one of the great saints that have ever lived, probably the greatest leader in the New Testament after Christ, and yet, his prayers were not always answered. In fact he said three times I pray for God to remove a thorn in the flesh. And God chose not to remove that thorn. I mean Paul, he got up and said tell us about your answered prayer, Paul would stand up and say well to be honest with you, I’ve been praying three times and haven’t had an answer yet.
He was not attractive. In fact there was a season in his life where he had an eye condition that literally made him repulsive to look at. And he himself said he was rejected and lonely. You see, you look at all the reasons this famous failure Paul could have felt like life wasn’t worth living and certainly not worth going forward, and yet, Paul’s not down. Paul continues to do the work of the Lord. Paul continues to encourage the saints. Paul encourages to write letters of instruction. I mean all of these failures, all of these problems and yet he still is helping people. Now how could he do that? How could Paul overcome the failures in his life? How could he overcome the setbacks in his life? Five reasons, are you ready?
Number one: Paul realized that God’s greatness is not determined by our greatness. In II Corinthians, he talks about the fact that we have this treasure in earth in vessels that the surpassing graced ness and the power of God may be of God and not of ourselves. In other words, Paul realized that greatness did not rest in him, greatness rested in God.
Chuck Colson, in his first book that I read of his, many years ago, Loving God, has an amazing story that I’m going to take a moment and read because it’s just exactly; he experienced what Paul experienced about the fact that his greatness was not important as long as God’s greatness shone through. One Easter morning, he said, as I sat in chapel at the Delaware State Prison waiting to preach, my mind drifted back in time to scholarships and honors earned, cases argued and won, great decisions made from lofty government offices. My life had been the perfect success story, the great American dream fulfilled. But all at once, I realized that it was not my success that God had used to enable me to help those in prisons or hundreds like them, my life of success was not made this morning, that’s not what made this morning so glorious. All of my achievements meant nothing in God’s economy. No, the real legacy of my life was my biggest failure, that I was an ex convict. My greatest humiliation being sent to prison was the beginning of God’s greatest use of my life. He chose that one experience in which I could not glory in myself for His glory. Confronted with this staggering truth, he said I understood with a jolt that I had been looking at life backwards but now I could see only when I lost everything that I thought made Charles Colson a great guy had I found the true self God intended me to be, and the true purpose of my life. Chuck Colson, that day in prison, realized it was in his greatest failure that out of that failure God received glory and greatness.
Several years ago, many, many years ago now, because I was a young man. In fact it’s now that I’m thinking about it; it was a lot of years ago. I was about 32 and I was asked to go Urbana Illinois for a large gathering of youth, about 20,000 there in the University of Illinois basketball arena, and they asked me to come and challenge the kids to full time Christian service. And as a very young pastor, very excited about this great opportunity, kind of my first kind of big gig, I worked hard on the sermon. I’m telling you, Sheila, I mean I really prepared a great sermon. I’ll never forget in Urbana, the afternoon that I was going to speak that evening, I was going over my notes one more time just making sure it was the perfect sermon to help people really respond to the call of God on their life, and I’m in the middle of this message, really immersed in it and God speaks to me and says basically to me, John, your sermon is not important. In fact John, I would like you to stand up in front of the 20,000 youth and share with them that I have a great plan for their life and that I’m calling them, and if they’ll just listen to the voice of God, they’ll respond that night. He said I don’t want you to preach, I just want you to let them know that what they feel in their heart, I’m going to do for them.
Well I didn’t want to do that. I mean hello, I’d worked a long time on this sermon. It was a masterpiece. So I just kept working on it. And I got into the arena that night, and I was hell bent to preach. And I mean I had that sermon, when I got out there, 20,000 kids, I started preaching and I can promise you for eight minutes, it was the worst sermon you have ever heard. I mean I couldn’t say words right, I couldn’t get sentence structure correct. My mother wouldn’t have even liked that sermon. And eight minutes into the message, I stopped and I looked at those kids and said I’ve been disobedient to God. I am trying to show off a great preacher and a message and He’s already spoken to you and He said He didn’t want me to show off, He wanted me to shut up and I wanted to show off. And now that that’s not working, I’ll shut up. And 2700 kids came forward that night to answer the call to full time Christian ministry. I walked off that stage that evening understanding, understanding what Paul knew about failure and that is the fact that God’s greatness is not determined by my greatness. I don’t have to shine. In fact, I can fail and God can get glory from it.
Secondly, Paul refused to believe that failures were final. He said we’re afflicted in every way but we’re not crushed and that word crushed literally means straightened or flattened. In fact the Maxwell translation I like here, we’re run over by a big truck but not flattened. He realized that, thirdly, that he could live without understanding everything. He said I’m perplexed but I’m not despairing. In other words, I can’t see a way out of here, but I know there’s a way out of here. He knew that God was with him during the difficult times. He said I’m persecuted but I’m not forsaken. And Paul also understood and he didn’t allow the problems on the outside to get inside of him. He said I’m struck down but I’m not destroyed.
This is a laminated card. You know that laminated cards are important to me. You know that when I laminate a card, it’s holy. It’s set apart. And I’ve had this laminated card for many, many years. It comes out of my book Failing Forward, but it gives you the perspective of Paul. It says when it looks like I have failed, Lord are you trying to tell me something? For failure does not mean I’m a failure, it does mean I have not yet succeeded. Failure does not mean that I’ve accomplished nothing. It does mean that I have learned something. Failure does not mean that I have been a fool; it does mean that I have had enough faith to try. Failure does not mean that I’ve been disgraced; it does mean that I dared to attempt. Failure does not mean I don’t have it, it does mean that I have to do something in a different way. Failure does not mean that I’m in failure; it does mean that I’m not perfect. Failure does not mean that I’ve wasted my life. It does mean that I have an excuse to start all over again. Failure does not mean that I should give up; it does mean I should try harder. It doesn’t mean that I’ll never make it. It does mean I need more patience. Failure does not mean that You’ve abandoned me, God. It just means that You have a better idea.
You see the apostle Paul, the apostle Paul could overcome all of his failures because of two perspectives that he had and I want to close with this. I want this to be cemented in your mind and in your heart. You see, the apostle Paul could overcome failure because he had a grace perspective. He saw everything in light of grace. And this grace perspective allowed him to see himself, not as he was but as he could be through the goodness of God. The apostle Paul one time said I have harmed no one. And when I read that phrase the first time, I thought what’s he mean he didn’t harm anybody. He persecuted Christians, he had them thrown in prison, he ordered the murder, he held the coat of Stevens when they martyred him and Paul saying I have hurt no one. I have not done. He could only say this because he saw himself through the grace and the forgiveness of God. And secondly, he had a God perspective. You see on the road to Damascus, God spoke to Paul and He basically said Paul, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The good news Paul is that you’re going to be a representative of Mine to Gentiles and kings and nobles. That’s the good news. He said the bad news is you’re going to suffer greatly. Good news, bad news.
And as Paul went through his difficulties and his failures, you know what Paul would say? That’s what God said. God said that I would have problems. God said that I would suffer. Here’s what Paul knew. Paul knew his problem was not his problem. He saw it from a God’s perspective and I would say to you today, your problem is not your problem, but the problem is sometimes you think the problem is the problem. So the problem that isn’t the problem becomes a problem, not because it’s a problem but you didn’t know the problem wasn’t a problem so the problem that isn’t a problem now has become a problem and now you have a problem, not because you had a problem but the problem was you didn’t know the problem wasn’t a problem and so now you do have a problem.
A little kid in elementary school was in bed and he was reading one of his favorite hero books that he had never read, and he loved this hero in a series of books. And he’s about halfway through and he’s greatly concerned because the hero is just getting terrible things happen to him and he’s tied up and they kidnapped him and the kid is kind of worried, is the hero going to make it? Finally he can’t stand it anymore, you’ve done this before, haven’t you? I’ve done this before. You know what he did, don’t you? He went to the back of the book. And the last couple pages, he read that.. and in the last couple pages he could tell the hero was going to be fine and the hero wasn’t going to be captured, and so now he goes back and reads the rest of it, and as he’s reading the rest of it, as the hero is still in trouble, he’s smiling as he reads and he’s saying to his hero, its going to be okay. You don’t know what I know but it’s going to be okay.
You don’t know what God knows in the midst of your problems and failures, but let me tell you something, it’s going to be okay! God bless you!